Dostoevsky on the Moscow Metro

by Jack McClelland

In June of 2010, a Dostoevsky-themed station opened on the Moscow Metro’s Green line, displaying marble-paneled depictions of his most memorable works, as well as a stern portrait of the Russian author welcoming Muscovites to their morning commute. Although many of Dostoevsky’s novels, such as Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Double occur in St. Petersburg, it cannot be forgotten that the Russian author was born and spent his childhood in Russia’s capital. The station, named Dostoevskaya (Достоевская), features several murals by Russian artist Ivan Nikolaev, depicting scenes from Dostoevsky’s novels Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and Demons, among others. The scenes range from Sonya Marmeladova’s retelling of the tale of Lazarus with a frantic Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment), to (Spoilers!) the suicide of Nikolai Stavrogin at the close of Demons.

The murals stirred up controversy when the station first opened, with concerns that the darker depictions weren’t appropriate for a metro station, as well as fears that this station would turn into a suicide hotspot for troubled Muscovites. Mikhail Vinogradov, the head of a Moscow Psychological Help Centre at the time, appeared on Russian television shortly after the opening of the station, and spoke to Russian news agencies criticizing the artwork, referencing its inappropriate placement in a common setting such as the Moscow underground.

In an NPR piece, then-foreign correspondent David Greene explored some of the negative, as well as positive, sides of these images of death and suicide entering a public sphere in the Moscow Metro. Balancing the opposing sides of criticism, Greene writes, “Like other psychologists who raised concerns in Russia and abroad, [Mikhail] Vinogradov says gripping images can induce violent behavior — and a subway station is the last place for that… But Natalia Semyonova, another clinical psychologist in Moscow, defended the artist and the author, whose books she uses in lectures and to treat patients…Using powerful literature to help overcome challenges in one’s own life, she says, is very Russian”. Surrounded by this controversy in early 2010, the Moscow metro did delay the opening of the station several months ahead to June. However, to this day no suicides or axe murders have taken place in or around the station.

Upon entering the station from the street, one takes a long escalator ride alongside two silhouetted figures drawn on the marble walls, rushing just as you are to catch the next train. Once reaching the bottom of these stairs one enters a long corridor with the large marble mural of the Russian author offering an ominous welcome to the Moscow underground. Following a few additional steps down to the train platform, one can explore the various murals depicting the imagined world of the station’s namesake. One of the more memorable murals depicting Dostoevsky’s 1866 novel Crime and Punishment (Преступление и наказание) features a number of scenes from the novel, including Raskolnikov’s murder of two women by axe. In Greene’s words, the artist Nikolaev says his task was, “to draw out the meaning, creativity, and entire life of Dostoevsky”.

Crime and Punishment subway
The Dostoevskaya metro station. Photo by Lerik Gadskii (2013).

To better understand Nikolaev’s Dostoevskaya station, let us take a moment to imagine ourselves entering Moscow’s historic metro, escaping either the freezing cold of a Russian winter, or maybe the uncomfortable-heat of the city’s humid summer. And as we descend the 3-minute escalator ride, we take ourselves below the tangible surroundings of Moscow’s surface streets, and into the heart of the Russian capital. Stops along this spanning network of tunnels and stations allow us to glimpse into the foundation of this functioning cosmopolitan system, and begin to understand the internal workings of the Russian capital as it exists today.

“Осторожно! Двери закрываются,” warns a fuzzy and familiar intercom, as doors slam shut, and your train accelerates along the green line of the Moscow Metro, now quickly approaching your destination: Dostoevskaya Station (Станция Достоевская). After a short trip through the city’s Soviet-built underground tunnels, you re-emerge into a spacious, marble-walled station, and as the doors open you come face-to-face with a contemplative Raskolnikov, the hero of Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment. The mural in front of you tracks Raskolnikov’s movements through the 1866 novel, from his introspective strolls along St. Petersburg’s Neva River embankment, to his axe-wielding moment of crime in the apartment of Alyona and Lizaveta Ivanovna. As you walk around this station, explore the various murals depicting the imagined world of the station’s namesake. Other titles represented on these marble-panels include Бесы (Demons) and Братья Карамазовы (The Brothers Karamazov), each providing a visual summary of Dostoevsky’s philosophical masterpieces. With the looming face of the Russian author’s massive portrait glaring at you from the exit, muster the courage to continue exploring Moscow’s beautiful underground labyrinth. As each of Dostoevsky’s novels reveal to us their own distinguishable insights into the expansive and nuanced Russian heart and soul, one stop along the Metro’s Green Line will only grant you a fleeting glimpse into the infrastructural beating heart of Russia’s capital city.

Jack McClelland minors in Russian at the University of British Columbia, where a foreign-language course requirement inspired a passion for the language, literature, and culture of Russia. He recently spent a summer studying abroad in St. Petersburg, and hopes to finish reading Crime and Punishment in original Russian before his hair goes grey. 

2 thoughts

  1. Neat. But why not Petersburg? I thought FMD hated Moscow so much that he deliberately refrained from letting any of his stories take place there.


  2. While Dostoevsky himself may have hated the 19th century Moscow, many modern Muscovites love Dostoevsky and his legacy on their country’s cultural history. St. Petersburg does still boast the title of “Artistic” or “Cultural” capital of Russia, but the people of Moscow are also actively engaged in celebrating and memorializing their country’s rich literary history.

    There is a Dostoevskaya station in Petersburg as well; and just outside is the apartment-museum where Dostoevsky did most of his later-life work. Petersburg’s station opened in the early 90’s, so maybe by 2010 Moscow felt a memorial to Dostoevsky was long overdue, and that an extravagant metro station would be a proper way to celebrate his life’s work.


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